Hogweed war continues as environmentalists start a second front

Giant Hogweed – environmental charity tackling the invasive plant head-on

A WAR AGAINST non-native plants in Moray has been undertaken over the last year – with the battle set to continue throughout 2016.

Moray environmental education charity Wild Things! has been at the forefront in the fight against Giant Hogweed, a plant that has been seen to spread in various parts of Moray and which poses a real danger to the unwary who come into contact.

A successful season saw the group regularly heading out to the Moray Waste Busters site in Forres to treat Giant Hogweed with glyphosate – now the fight has begun again with clearance work already being undertaken this year through the digging up of small crowns of overwintering plants.

The sap from Giant Hogweed contains chemicals that react to sunlight and can cause serious burns. However, that is not the only risk that it poses.

It can reach heights of up to 5.5m, produce leaves 1m wide and its flowers are capable of producing around 30,000 seeds per plant. Their fast rate of growth, impressive size and prolific seed production enables Giant Hogweed to quickly colonise an area, shading out other plants and reducing diversity of native flora and the animals that depend upon them.

When it dies back in winter it leaves behind bare soil, which increases the chances of soil erosion and flooding.  Now through its ‘Blue Gym’ programme, Wild things! has been working to clear the plants to benefit the people and wildlife of Moray.

Wild things! Blue Gym coordinator, Laura Smith said, “We have been working with volunteers to dig up the crowns. So far we estimate that we have dug up around 1200 plants, and if this method works we estimate that within two weeks we could have prevented 36million seeds from joining the seed bank.”

Glyphosate based herbicides are believed to be the best way to control giant hogweed, especially on large-scale projects with mature plants. After extensive research, Wild things! reluctantly decided to use them as no alternative became apparent, however, this year they are excited to be practicing organic removal methods whilst the plants are small enough to be dug up.

Over the last two weeks teams of Wild things! staff and volunteers have been out, spades in hand, to dig up the large tap roots of overwintering plants.

Laura said: “This is an experiment for Wild things! but if it works it could allow them to considerably reduce their glyphosate use.

“The lifecycle of the giant hogweed plant is such that after the seeds sprout, they begin to put down a large taproot, like a carrot. It can take several years for the plant to reach maturity, during which time the plant continues to store huge amounts of energy in its root.

“Eventually, the hogweed puts up a flowering stem and directs all of that stored energy into producing thousands of seeds before dying. Preventing the plant from reaching this point is key to eradicating it from a particular area.”

Wild things! are keen for volunteer help with the control of all of the invasive plants that they are tackling at the moment, so are inviting people to come forward. Laura can be contacted on 01309 690450 or via email to laura.smith@wild-things.org.uk.